Happy New Year, movie lovers, and welcome to what amounts to two meager offerings for the start of this cold January. Opening this weekend is the Nicolas Cage supernatural thriller, Season Of The Witch, which co-stars Ron Perlman, and the musical drama Country Strong, with Garrett Hedlund and Gwyneth Paltrow.
Nicolas Cage has made some bad movies throughout his long and memorable career, but Season of the Witch may be the bad movie to finally make us all ask what Cage does to choose his projects. Based on the dismal reviews the film is getting, which paint a picture far darker than Cage’s previous disaster, The Wicker Man, it seems like Cage simply picks the first script that lands on his desk that uses the words “supernatural” and is willing to pay him a healthy wad of cash.
Set in the days following the Crusades, Cage plays Behmen, a knight who returns home to discover his homeland has been devastated by the Black Plague. Joined by his soldier buddy Felson, played by the wonderful Ron Perlman, the friends are forced to assist church elders who swear that a local woman is actually a witch who has cursed the land, and the only way to lift the terrible blight is to have her dealt with by a far-away monastery.
Journeying across the land, the duo have to face many challenges on their road, and on the way they also discover the truth about the girl and the force that is trying to defeat them on their quest, which will also change the fate of the world.
While I’m a big fan of Perlman, and of Cage to some degree, the film looks absolutely ridiculous, and with its 3% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, the critics are all agreeing on that point.
“Season of the Witch isn’t quite Jonah Hex or Little Fockers bad,” wrote Jim Vejvoda for IGN Movies, “but it’s one helluva shoddy way to start off the year in movies and yet another crummy entry in Nicolas Cage’s woeful post-Oscar filmography.”
While Andrew Barker of Variety aptly commented, “Season of the Witch is a fine example of a film that would’ve been great fun if only its creators had a sense of humor about the wild brew of absurdity they had percolating.”
Since the film was dumped in January, the key month for disappointing movies, it’s no big surprise that Season of the Witch is a dud, but it’s also worth noting that the film was directed by Dominic Sena, the man responsible for the horrible little thriller Whiteout. The director’s only two decent hits to date were Gone in 60 Seconds and Swordfish, which weren’t exactly mind-blowing films either, but apparently he still has enough clout in Hollywood to keep him from waiting tables.
The incomprehensible thing about Cage is how the heavily lauded actor can go from a film like Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, where he delivered one of his all-time great performances of his career, to tripe like Season Of The Witch. The only explanation I can come up with is that he’s more concerned with paychecks and weird roles than being careful with the parts he picks to play. That said, there’s no doubt that Cage picks interesting themes and concepts. This concept just comes up short.
On a somewhat brighter note this week there is director Shana Feste’s twangy drama, Country Strong, starring Garrett Hedlund, Leighton Meester, and Gwyneth Paltrow.
Hedlund stars as a rising singer-songwriter who gets wrapped up with a down-but-not-quite-out country singer, played by Gwyneth Paltrow. Teaming up to try to make another name for herself, the duo go on tour with her husband, played by Tim McGraw, and a young singer, played by Leighton Meester. On the road the four duelling personalities will face old and new troubles, and face off against conflicted emotions that could ruin them all if they don’t get them under control.
Featuring original music and an intriguing concept, Country Strong is not getting rave reviews, but it is holding its own. Some critics have pointed out that the songs are mediocre at best, and the direction is weak, but it’s also interesting to point out that many critics though that Garrett Hedlund ended up upstaging the rest of the cast, including Paltrow.
“It shows that Gwyneth knows the spangly high-powered joys of country music. Too bad that in Country Strong, she’s too busy acting out the hysterical and mostly nonsensical sorrows,” wrote Owen Gleiberman for Entertainment Weekly.
“Country Strong stumbles, and has some slack in its silences,” wrote James Rocchi for MSN Movies, “but it takes its world, characters and songcraft seriously…”